Stroll along the Chicago River’s west bank on Chicago’s tony Near North Side and a sweet breeze will surely catch your attention.
The smell is of chocolate. Amidst skyscrapers and $1 million condominiums, family-owned Blommer Chocolate Company, the largest cocoa processor in North America, is baking lots of it in its central factory.
Most chocolate admirers don’t realize the finished product starts thousands of miles away in places like Ghana, the second-largest cocoa bean cultivator in the world.
If Chicago is the chocolate capital of the western hemisphere, it’s thanks to the 80,000 cocoa bean farmers in West Africa who make it possible.
Sustaining these farmers and growing their productivity has been a top priority of western chocolate companies. Blommer, Hershey, and Olam Cocoa partnered earlier this year to fund and build a community health center in Côte d'Ivoire (The Ivory Coast), also a large cocoa producer.
"In addition to the support of the individual farm, providing the opportunities necessary to help build thriving communities is critical to the long-term success of the farming sector. We share Hershey's vision of benefiting thousands of lives," said Kip Walk, Corporate Director, Sustainability at Blommer.
In Ghana, President John Mahama has aggressively sought to grow the country’s cocoa industry over the past eight years.
Mahama, who is up for reelection next week, has focused on stabilizing Ghana’s currency, the Cedi, which is among the strongest in Africa. Foreign exchange speculators predict that, even with next week’s election, the currency will remain stable through the beginning of next year. During his first term, President Mahama also worked to lower farmer production costs by providing them direct access to fertilizers once only available via middlemen.
Mahama, Hershey and Chicago’s Blommer are also among the major supporters of the World Cocoa Foundation’s African Cocoa Initiative, which seeks to raise cocoa farmer incomes by 150-200 percent in Ghana, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, and Nigeria.
The $13.5 million program is focused on sustainable productivity growth and food security.
"The WCF African Cocoa Initiative is a solid example of governments, industry, and development organizations working together in a collaborative and responsible manner to support cocoa farmers and their communities, in turn, strengthening entire regions through improved economy and food security. The greatest impact will come through all of us combining our strengths to do what is right, and necessary,” said Bill Guyton, president of the World Cocoa Foundation.